The squirrel monkey is the smallest of the four species weighing around 1.8 pounds for the males and 1.5 pounds for the females and has the most restrictive living range. Their range is from the central and south coast of the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica in the secondary forests and partially logged primary forests and the Pacific coast of Panama near the border with Costa Rica. They are currently considered a vulnerable species since 1982 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature they were upgraded recently from endangered.
Photographing monkeys in the jungles of Costa Rica is one of the trickiest and most challenging photographic situations I have encountered. It is dark under the forest canopy – to add to that monkeys are also dark and they move really quickly. Similar to shooting flying birds in the sky it is challenging to use a tripod to track their movements and although you would want to use a tripod given the lighting circumstances it is almost impossible.
So your goal is to shoot monkeys hand-held under a dark canopy? What does that mean? It means an imperfect situation. It means pushing your ISO to levels you don’t really want because of added noise. It means the need for a fairly fast shutter speed under extremely low-light conditions. It means shooting with your fastest and widest aperture to maximize light. Now aside from these challenges you have to first find and then track these fast-swinging creatures as they move sporadically through the canopy. Spot metering is usually effective for proper exposures but you will probably also need a flash and maybe even a flash extender to capture the action in the dark environment. Often monkeys are spotted behind branches way up in the trees and it can be really tricky to get a clear shot. It takes time and patient to get great wild monkey shots but the efforts are well worth it.
Interested in learning how to spot and photograph wild monkeys? Join me in Costa Rica this year for Backcountry Journeys’ Wildlife of Costa Rica photography tour & workshop.